Morocco: Why it’s Got it All - The Atlas Mountains (& the Odd Waterfall)

As if there wasn’t already enough in the diverse and wonderfully chaotic country that is Morocco, behold: the Atlas mountains. If the sand of the desert gets too orange; the blue of the sea just a little too azure; fear not, the lush green expanses of the mountains await you. To close my four part piece of just why and how Morocco has it all (and more), I bring you a trip into the snow-tipped peaks of the Atlas mountain range.

Similarly to the Sahara, for a true and proper immersion into your mountainous experience, it’s best to allow a few days. The options to choose from are almost as limitless as the Atlas itself - both in terms of the part of the range and the intensity of the trip. As a mountain/nature/camping freak it was a no-brainer for me: a guide, a donkey, a tent and the mountains. However, for those less keen on a full-on camping expedition, it is equally possible to enjoy a relaxing stay in a mountain side guest house, with a good book overlooking a great panorama, and the odd stroll.

Most people miss out the Middle Atlas range entirely, moving straight from a city like Fez, to Marrakech, and then booking a trek in the High region of the mountains - the most popular part and perhaps the most spectacular. Desiring as always to move against the typical tourist flow, my boyfriend and I stopped first in the Middle range; my first venture into the rolling expanses of the Atlas mountains, and in my opinion (apologies for the cliche), a “must-see.” Not least because they are the greenest (and who doesn’t like green?) of all the Atlas regions.

The real reason for my insistence: the Ouzoud waterfalls. Just a one and a half hour drive from Marrakech, and if you do it like us, a pretty cheap ride (albeit all elbows and limbs and four of us in the back of one of the standard ‘mini’ taxis.) Situated near the tiny village of Tanaghmeilt, Ouzoud boasts some rather magnificent cascades. Many come to the falls for a day trip from Marrakech and return to their hotel in the evening; if time is not an object, I would suggest spending at least a night by the falls. When we eventually arrived at Ouzoud and untangled our limbs, we decided to climb down the path that winds around the rust-coloured cliffs in search of some accomodation that was not a hotel. We ended up staying in a lovely, and relatively spacious, Berber tent, directly opposite the waterfall.

It was magical. We woke to the soothing sounds of water thrumming against rocks; opened the tent to a family of macaque monkeys playing on the side of the mountain; drank our morning coffee to unreal views of the waterfall chasing itself down the cliff front. Days were spent in happy idleness: walking down the river from the falls, plunging into its cool depths and discovering hidden caves. On one afternoon we decided to climb up, down and across to the next mountain over, in order to visit the ancient Berber “Mexican” village. Climbing through the somewhat dilapidated village, we were greeted by a villager who invited us into his house to sip steaming glasses of mint tea with him - the odd chicken or goat popping their head in from time to time to say hello. As dusk began to settle over the mountains, we left and were taken to another house, where a twinkly-eyed father and his son played traditional music for us til stars began to decorate the sky.

Reluctantly, we left Ouzoud for the High Atlas range - specifically, Happy Valley. As one of the most stunning valleys in the range, the name serves it well. We found a local guide and spent three days traversing the mountains; waking in our tents to the most breathtaking views; passing Berber villages, one of which we were lucky enough to be welcomed in to eat with a family. Whilst we mainly stayed in our tents, and had our guide cook us delicious campfire tagines and eggs for breakfast, we did spend a night in a small guesthouse. (Good to know it is an option.) Remote and peaceful, find a guide that knows the valley and its fauna, and can introduce you to its myriad natural wonders. The mountains are an aspect of Morocco that I will come back for again and again; and my trek in the Atlas range was one of the most memorable and marvelous experiences of my trip.

So here ends my four-part piece on Morocco. A truly unique and beautiful country. Simultaneously mesmerising and mad in its contrasts; at times intense, more often inspiring. I do believe there is something for everyone within the country and I hope I have shed just a little light on all it has to offer. But as with so many extraordinary things in life, to get a feel, you really have to visit yourself.

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